WWYGD: High Water Stripers

Tennessee striper guide Ralph Dallas plies the Cumberland River for monster striped bass. When water levels rise, though, trophy-class fish head for cover. In Part 8 of "What Would Your Guide Do" Dallas outlines his plan to go after them.

Regarded as one of the foremost landlocked striped bass anglers in the nation, Ralph Dallas guides on the trophy-rich Cumberland River system of Middle Tennessee. Remarkably, he has caught not 1, but 2 Tennessee state record stripers, and currently holds the Volunteer State record for the species with a 65-pound, 6-ounce monster from Cordell Hull Reservoir.

Dallas has pioneered and refined numerous live bait and artificial lure tactics that have resulted in thousands of giant stripers for his clients. Here, he details his approaches for what he considers the toughest striper scenario: High water.

Dallas: The biggest landlocked stripers live in rivers and river-run reservoirs. Stripers need plenty of dissolved oxygen (5 to 8 parts per million) to not only survive but thrive, and the tumbling action of current ensures highly-oxygenated water for these powerful swimmers. Stripers also demand cool water. A typical Southeastern slack-water reservoir may have a surface temperature topping 90 degrees in midsummer, causing stripers considerable stress. However, a nearby river controlled by a series of dams may be only 60 degrees in summer, resulting in highly active fish.

Of course, where dams are involved, you're going to have fluctuating water levels. Because I book guide trips over a year in advance, I must be prepared to put my clients on fish in low-, moderate- and high-water conditions. High water is, without question, the toughest of the three. Throw muddy inflow into the equation and the bite becomes even tougher. Still, it's possible to catch fish in high water with the right approach.

My experience has shown that when the river gets high, stripers often retreat to submerged wood cover—the thicker, the better. This type of cover is abundant in most river-run reservoirs, where entire trees may be uprooted and washed downstream during a flood. Stripers will literally park in these flooded trees and wait for conditions to improve before venturing out to chase wandering schools of baitfish. The good news is, you know exactly where the fish are. The bad news is, they're surrounded by a tangle of tree limbs, and they aren't likely to move more than a few inches to grab a meal.

When faced with high water, I'll tell my client that instead of a day filled with explosive topwater strikes or multiple hookups while drifting bait on planer boards, we'll be gunning for one giant striper. I then position my boat approximately two cast-lengths upstream of a submerged tree or logjam, and either tie off to a nearby snag or drop anchor. Next, I'll let out enough rope to move the boat within casting distance of my target.

Using a powerful saltwater rod paired with a wide-spool baitcasting reel spooled with 130-pound braid, I'll cast a big, live skipjack herring as close as possible to the snaggy cover without hanging up in the limbs. The bait is nose-hooked with a big octopus-style hook, with a treble stinger impaled near the tail. I fish skipjacks on a 2-foot leader below a flat "dollar" sinker, which resists rolling in current. Once the bait is in position, if a big fish is there, it may take two minutes or two hours, but eventually it's gonna munch that big skipjack. When it loads on, I'll instruct my client to lean on the fish hard to move it out of the snags. Then I'll lift the anchor or untie the boat so I can maneuver him into position for a better shot at landing the fish.

Contact: Ralph Dallas; (615) 824-5792.

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